Read By: Robert Hass and Jorie Graham - 92Y, New York

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Read By: Robert Hass and Jorie Graham

Apr 13, 2020

Jorie Graham on Linda Gregg:

Reading Linda Gregg’s poems is a unique experience because not only does one hear Linda’s voice in one’s head—if one ever heard her read it was unforgettable—but the voice is actually inscribed into the lines, the syntax, the rhythm, tone, tempo. This is the sign of tremendous formal skill—that one controls the audible voice of the poem right down to its minutest modulations. This is also the signature of a poem which is a lived experience—not the record of one, or the report of one. If there ever were, as Stevens puts it in “On Modern Poetry,” those urgent poems “of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice” they are the adamant, fierce, brave, poems of Linda Gregg. It is hard to describe poems which appear to carry true visionary experience in their marrow. They are, to a certain extent, disincarnate, icy, terse, as-if-dictated. Vision uses abstraction as if it were its natural integument. Vision would seem to use the poet, the poet’s body and voice, as a vessel to get itself expressed, forcibly pressed from the invisible into the visible, from the unknowable into the knowable or the transmittable. And these are certainly characteristics of Gregg’s poems. And yet they are also so deeply poems of the body’s unique knowledge—its intimations, forebodings, fears, lusts and loves. Her poems seem to do it all. It would appear quite impossible for the incarnate to shine so visibly carnate before us—and in so few words. But there she is, as Gregg would say, seeing the vision stand before her. Finally her poems exhibit a fearlessness, a recklessness which seems to be shared by both a way of living and a way of writing—a numinous incandescence, which has to do with searching for the limits of not just what life can be, but also of what language can hold—which might indeed be Too Bright To See. Not any self-indulgent or thrill-seeking recklessness, but recklessness in the name of a deeper reckoning. Until indeed, here she is, always blazing, always alive, Linda Gregg.

Robert Hass on Linda Gregg:

The first poem of Linda's that I read was "We Manage Most When We Manage Small." I think I read it twice. A couple of days later I realized that I had it more or less memorized, from that startling first line—"What things are steadfast? Not the birds." Her music certainly had to do with the way she used questions and declarative sentences and her feel for the relation of sentence to line, which is very strong and very often very simple. She wanted to make poems that were plain and radiant like the chunks of thousand-year-old marble she would occasionally turn up on the island of Santorini when, as a young woman, she was living there with Jack Gilbert and learning to write. Her aesthetic, I noticed, when I came to know her, was frugal and like the way she lived the practical parts of life. I remember her describing her relation to shopping and to the objects of desire in a consumer culture. She said she liked to go downtown, to Union Square in San Francisco or uptown to Madison Avenue in New York and hunt down the very best and most beautiful version of the thing she had desired and study it for a while and walk away. It reminded me of Richard Wilbur's wonderful phrase about Emily Dickinson's poetry. He said she traded in "sumptuous destitution." Something like that seems to account for the light Linda's poems give off.

"We Manage Most When We Manage Small"

"The Poet Goes About Her Business" 

"Eurydice"

"The Girl I Call Alma"

"Too Bright to See"

"The Apparent"

"There She Is"

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Categories: Literary Read By


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